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Sixty for Israel 60

October 30, 2008 By:
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Meir Fenigstein
It's all a matter of rock 'n' reel: Music and movies have been merry Meir Fenigstein's MO for so long, is it any wonder his life sounds like a movie musical?

Funny you should say that, he says, savoring the irony that the script he wrote long ago about his years as a member of Poogy -- Israel's No. 1 rock band of the '70s -- has surfaced amid rekindled interest, after years of sitting out the dance.

But that's got to be the end bill of a double feature that puts him and his Israel Film Festival in single focus these days. The first-rate festival, which has screened more than 750 features in its 23 years of operations, gets ready to add another candle to its cake of accomplishments as it offers the reel thing now through Nov. 13.

No lost opportunities for "Lost Islands" -- the opening-night feature in focus -- or any of dozens of award-winning wonders from the land of sabras and cinema to find special screen time at the far-reaching festival (http://ny.israelfilmfestival.com), which has hosted the hot and the hip -- as well as the haimisch -- from a land kissed by the sun, while scorned by its next-door neighbors.

But the welcome mat has been extended 6,000 miles from New York to Tel Aviv and beyond, as Fenigstein finds Israel knocking on the door of greatness in what it does amid the dunes of its dynamic setting.

Having just signed off by the Hollywood sign with its Los Angeles edition, the IFF has jumped into a cosmic cab ride to New York, where its many offerings include this year's Oscar-nominated "Beaufort" and "The Debt," the latter receiving its American premiere.

He's in debt to so many filmmakers and stars, says Fenigstein, for making the festival such an attraction -- this year's event salutes the work and wizardry of Irwin Winkler, Danny de Vito and Edward Zwick -- he seemingly overlooks his own star billing when the bill comes due: The former rock star -- whose nickname of Poogy gave the Israeli band, Kavert, its American touring title -- drummed up an interest in Israeli film while still a student at the Boston College of Music.

Putting down his drummer's sticks, he stuck with the notion that Israeli cinema simply needed a national showcase, and he was the one seemingly to salute it in all its technicolor triumph.

Miami Next Beachhead

Fade in on a former fading scene: Once a dead end for aspiring filmmakers, the Dead Sea region has been reinvigorated, as reflected by the hopefuls attached to the 60 or so films shown this year for Israel at age 60. (Miami is the IFF's beachhead in December.)

Hooray for Hollywood, sure; but "Roua" for Rehovot: "The quality of Israeli production has been growing over the years, just incredibly," regales Fenigstein, "going from quaint to quality."

No quarrel with that, as such films as "Jellyfish," "The Band's Visit" and the aforementioned "Beaufort" have generated a new generation of fans and followers, with Variety dedicating a number of articles this past year to Israel's diverse industry as a land of milk and honors.

Jerusalem, city of lights ... and action! "The time is right for Israeli films," says Tel Avivian Fenigstein, with the nation's burgeoning schools tellingly serving as tent-films for aspiring artists. Put the picture in reverse and see how far the forward-thinking country has come: Fenigstein can look back some 30 years ago -- when Poogy was oh-so-pop -- and contrast the scarcity of Israeli films on American screens with the plethora of pics now.

Prophet without honor? Or is that ... profit with? "We surprisingly have a better response to Israeli films here than in Israel," he says with a shrug in his voice.

Indeed, he tells the story of an American who took off work for an extended vacation and took a flight of fancy -- rather than book a plane -- for his week away. "I just saw 22 films," he told friends of his video vacation in which he took in an eyeful, a veritable sightseeing cinema adventure.

No ifs, ands or buts, he told them of the IFF: "That's better than any vacation."

Yes, they Cannes? If IFF's can-do attitude does draw some comparisons to Cannes, Fenigstein is delighted, but demurs. "That's like comparing me to Ringo Starr," says the drummer, ever ready, however, to pick up the compliment and let it stick.

But the beat goes on for IFF, with the traveling music provided by the former Poogy poo-bah and a cast of professionals. Lights out, pass the hummus?

"What better way to see Israel than through a filmmaker's eyes," says Fenigstein, ushering in the festival.

 

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